Japanese Rat Snake

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Is the Japanese Rat Snake right for you?

Species group:

Scientific name: Elaphe climacophora

The basics: The Japanese Ratsnake is one of the largest and most widely-distributed of Japan’s snakes. Its range extends from the Russian Kurile Islands (Kunashir Island) south through most of Japan to the Ryukyu Islands.

It adapts to a wide variety of habitats, including forest edges, marshes, overgrown fields, bamboo thickets, farms, and rocky mountainsides. The Japanese Ratsnake forages on the ground and in trees and bushes.

Appearance / health: Local Japanese Ratsnake populations vary in appearance, and may be gray, olive to bright green or blue-green, and marked with stripes or dark saddles. An albino population in southern Honshu was declared a national monument and protected in 1924 (white snakes are given special consideration in several Asian countries).

Adults range from 3.5 to 5.5 feet in length.

Behavior / temperament: Japanese Ratsnakes are somewhat shy and may be quick to bite. Captive individuals usually become calmer in demeanor, but caution must be exercised when they are handled.

Housing: Japanese Ratsnakes are rather active, and should be provided with proportionally larger accommodations than their American counterparts. While a 55-75 gallon aquarium will suit small adult, larger individuals are best provided custom-built cages measuring at least 4 x 5 feet. Newspapers, cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials may be used as substrates. Stout climbing branches will be well-used. A dry shelter and another stocked with moist sphagnum moss should be provided.

Ambient temperature: 77-84 F; Basking temperature: 88 F.

Adult Japanese Ratsnakes are sizable creatures that produce copious amounts of fecal material which must be removed regularly. The enclosure should be misted daily and thoroughly cleaned each 2-4 weeks.

Diet: Wild Japanese Ratsnakes consume a wide variety of foods, including squirrels, rats, mice, bats, birds, frogs and lizards; bird eggs are a particular favorite. Pets do well on a diet comprised of mice and rats. Youngsters feed primarily on frogs and lizards in the wild, and may refuse mice. Scenting a pink mouse with a frog or anole may induce feeding.

Breeding: Breeding is spurred by a cooling-off period of 3-4 months at 50-55 F. Clutches typically contain 7-20 eggs. At an incubation temperature of 82-85 F, they hatch within 60-70 days.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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